The Morgan County R-II School District is looking to pack as much value as it can into proposed new revenue from a levy increase on the April 8 ballot.

The Morgan County R-II School District is looking to pack as much value as it can into proposed new revenue from a levy increase on the April 8 ballot.

The board of education is seeking to bump up the district's operational levy rate from $2.75 per $100 of assessed valuation to $2.90. The 15-cent increase on real and personal property should generate around $300,000 a year based on the district's current assessed value which has held steady at an average $243 million since 2007-08.

The immediate goal is to provide matching funds for a storm shelter grant which school officials want to double as a performing arts center.

"Our number one priority is to make our students as safe as they can be," Assistant Superintendent Mike Butt said. "Our current situation is not safe."

Some of the areas where students are to go for shelter during a storm have windows which could allow wind tunnels and debris to make unsafe conditions in a tornado. There is not enough area without windows in the school buildings for all students to be in a safe location.

After a long qualifying process begun in 2011-12, the district received notice this winter that it would receive a grant of close to $2 million — plus matching district funds of $605,500 — from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a storm shelter or "safe room" at the main campus.

The board proposed an above-ground building designed to withstand an EF5 tornado that is capable of holding everyone at the main campus located where all students can reach it in under five minutes.

Rather than have the building sit empty the majority of the time, the board is proposing to utilize it as a performing arts center — increasing the cost of building to $4.5 million total. With these plans and the grant, the district's match would be $2.5 million.

A community facility survey completed in 2012 supported a performing arts center at the main campus as the biggest need for the district.

At approximately 15,000 square foot, the proposed building would house up to 1,700 people as a storm shelter and would have auditorium seating for around 500-600.

"The number one thing is safety, but the performing arts center is definitely a need. Most schools in our district already have one," said Butt. "In our middle school and high school we have over 230 kids involved in programs that would benefit from it. And the sports teams too — they have to give up practice time while other things are going on."

The facility would also be available to the community if a large auditorium is needed. The Royal Theatre in downtown Versailles seats 272 in comparison.

If the funding is approved, the district plans to roll its outstanding debt from the construction of the high school commons into the lease purchase for the storm shelter to lower the interest rate.

The new facility would be slated to open in 2016.

In addition to the storm shelter, the levy issue would also increase the operating budget — the amount will vary depending on final construction costs and interest rates.

Local revenues have stagnated in recent years while state funding has been steadily cut back over the same time period all due to a struggling economy. While property tax revenue has averaged about $8.15 million a year, state revenue has dropped by close to $500,000 since the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Expenses continue to go up across the board and have skyrocketed in such categories as fuel, buses and insurance.

To offset the deficit between declining revenues and rising costs, the district has cut more than 22 full time equivalent positions — from teachers and administrators to assistants and paraprofessionals — mainly through natural attrition.

With some initial relief on operations from the levy increase, district officials are considering options for adding more security as well as stabilizing infrastructure, such as new roofing where needed and staying in a regular bus replacement schedule, according to Butt.

When the lease purchase is paid off in 15-20 years, the district could absorb the full increase into its operational budget or could choose to voluntarily roll back the levy to the base rate of $2.75, depending on the needs at the time.

At some point, the school may also look at adding a few things back that the board had to cut to balance the budget.

"We've taken some of the At-Risk [program] positions away. You can tell we need to put some of those back in," Butt said.

A simple majority is required to pass the levy issue. The last time a tax issue was successful in the district was in 1978.

Current area school levies
Morgan County schools have the lowest tax rates in the area. Both MCR2 and MCR1 (Stover) have been held at $2.75 since the base was created through state statute in 1999. Meanwhile other districts, even those such as Camdenton and Osage with much higher assessed valuations, have stepped up from the bottom level of funding.
Camdenton R-III: $2.87
School of the Osage: $2.9875
Eldon: $3.5403
Cole Camp: $3.2673
Tipton: $3.9995
California: $3.9981
MCR2 proposal: $2.90